Sharad Pawar, NCP chief, has outwitted Amit Shah, BJP chief, in the post election manoeuvres, in which game Amit Shah had reigned supreme for the past six years or so. Unflappable and patient, Pawar moved slow and steady and showed that he can play all types of political balls with ease from any position, be it front foot, back foot or ‘Nataraja’.
Perhaps in Maharashtra post elections Amit Shah, known for his shrewd tactics, failed in his calculations and moves. His anticipation that the Shiv Sena would not leave the alliance on the issue of rotation of CM’s office between the BJP and SS failed. His calculation that the Sena would not try for an alliance with NCP and traditional rival Congress and vice versa after the bitter election campaign, too proved wrong. The Shiv Sena stuck to its demand and the SS, NCP and INC leaders had no qualms about forming an alliance. SS moved with the zeal of a new convert in forming the alliance and the other two did not hesitate when they got a chance to break the NDA in Maharashtra, keeping it out of power. In fact all of them were unanimous about keeping BJP out of power. The Modi-Shah duo has been rather unabashedly calling for an opposition Mukht Bharat, trying to cut the very roots of democracy in the country.
Vipaksh Mukht Bharat would, in effect result in death of democracy in India. Can there be a democracy without an opposition? No political party can support such a cause. Yes, even a section in the Parivar too would find it difficult to follow such a political line. Sena leaders knew that after weakening NCP and INC, theBJP’s next enemy would be themselves. Added to that, NCP and INC were willing to extend any concession to achieve their aim of keeping theParivar out of power. The Sena was only keen on chief ministership.
The next move of Shah was engineering the defection of Ajit Pawar, NCP patriarch’s ambitious nephew. He chose the timing cleverly: Moving Ajit to theBJP camp to form an alliance after the election of Ajit as NCP legislature party leader. All was worked out to effect the changes in nine hours in the darkness of night, when the lights were on in Mumbai’s Raj Bhavan and New Delhi’s Rashtrapati Bhavan throughout. Events as well as innumerable versions of those nine hours have come out in detail, some of them apocryphal. But the hasty swearing-in of Devendra Fadnavis and Ajit Pawar and 5.47 AM, withdrawal of President’s rule, not following the procedures and ignoring the constitutional provisions could not pass judicial review. Attempts to win over loyalties of MLAs too did not succeed. Without facing the assembly Fadnavis resigned as he could not manage the majority. Earlier, all cases against Ajit Pawar relating to the Rs.70,000 crore alleged fraud, was withdrawn before he took over as Dy. CM. Some reports said that Ajit insisted on withdrawal of charges before assuming charge. Some reports by influential and imaginative journalists even credited the wisdom for the move to the NCP veteran, Sharad Pawar well versed in political games at national and state levels since 1978, when he first deserted the Congress and formed PDF with the help of the then Janata Party and few others and became Maharashtra chief minister at 38. Simply put, the major achievement of Ajit Pawar is getting himself free of all charges, on which he was pilloried by Fadnavis in theMaharashtra assembly. Ajit coolly and quietly moved back to NCP after resigning. In the process, another gain for the NCP was not that a major corruption charge was withdrawn and exposed the dirty intentions of the BJP to go to any length to destroy the image of the opponents. Also the credibility of corruption cases filed against leaders of NCP and other leaders. In fact a debate on the various corruption charges against major political opponents all over India by the Income-tax department, Enforcement Directorate, the CBI and other central organizations began, questioning the intentions behind it. Some even linked these charges against senior leaders of opposition as part of the move behind the Vipaksh Mukt Bharat plan of the top BJP leaders.
Patriarch Pawar looked into every detail and managed to keep the elected MLAs of SS-NCP-Congress in safe places. The master stroke was exhibiting 162 MLAs in a five star hotel over dinner, which was telecast live by the TV channels. Though some raised questions on the number of MLAs it lacked credibility. Pawar was the undisputed Master easily handling every googly of Shah with ease. However it is not clear whether Amit Shah was the man behind the moves of Ajit Pawar or Sharad Pawar himself. What is clear is that ultimately the beneficiary proved to be Pawar which even some Parivar veterans conceded privately according to some reports.
Be that as it may, what is discernible is that the strategy and tactics of the Modi-Amit Shah duo is not effective when it comes to taking on the regional parties. Its strength in state politics is weakening and is now confined to a few Hindi-belt states, known in political parlance as “Bimaru” region. Even the recent by-election results from West Bengal showed BJP performed rather poorly. Many feel that the tactics and strategies of the BJP leadership are getting ineffective at the national level. Each region has different issues and problems. The two main planks on which Modiji’s oratory excel are criticism of the Congress and Hindutva appeal. These do not have the expected response from non-Hindi states if one goes by an assessment of the recent elections in the states. Repeating the same points from every platform and over exposure by the Channels too, many a time at prime time when many, particularly women, love to watch serials, do result in highly critical remarks in the drawing rooms often cursing the perpetrators responsible for last minute changes in the programmes.
But more importantly there is a tendency for the opposition, in spite of its divisions within and ideological clashes, to look at the Vipaksh Mukt Bharat with extreme suspicion and as a major threat to democracy. That is why most of the regional parties are joining the opposition forces. The authoritarian trends of the NDA have also made many closer to Hindutva forces to prefer a safe distance policy, particularly caste and communal outfits functioning in areas outside political playgrounds.
A possibility is that patriarchs like Pawar from other regions, now lying low and without much of a role, will wake up and get active in regional politics. Some of them do enjoy a good reputation and acceptability even now, though inactive in recent years. The BJP Chanakyas will have to now look for new strategies as anti-Congress and Hindutva campaigns are not as appealing as in the past. Even the campaign of development by the BJP has few takers these days thanks to the failure of demonetization and hasty implementation of GST which has put the economy moving at a slower pace and job opportunities getting fewer and fewer.
Given the developing political situation it would be interesting to watch what the psephologists in the BJP would come up with, to face the challenges of the Pawars of the regions who have been activated.